Priests Prey, Sisters Pay

Nuns to Be Evicted: It’s “wrong,” Sister Angela believes, for the small Eastside convent where she’s lived since 1964 to be sold to help pay for the sins of priests accused of molesting children. Sisters of Bethany have been serving the low-income neighborhood since the 1950s, but now must leave due to church scandals within the L.A. Archdiocese. “What hurts so much is what they want to use [the sale proceeds] for,” Sister Superior Angela, 69, told me. “In conscience, I can’t say that’s right.”

On the Beat

Parishioners just learning about the eviction and planned sale are indignant and bitter. “Why are they having to pay the price as victims for the sins of pedophiles?” asked Sally Sanchez, a community worker. There is “a lot of anger” among people on the Eastside, people who have “been helped in one way or the other” by the nuns, said Lucy Gonzalez, whom I met on the street outside the convent on Nopal Street next to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church.

“The church seems to be going after ‘the little people’ that have served it faithfully,” charged Sister Angela’s real-life sister Rosemary Escalera Gutierrez of Hacienda Heights. “Auxiliary Bishop [Thomas] Curry of Santa Barbara is residing by himself in a former convent in San Roque, an upper-crust area,” she continued. “The convent there is triple the size of the Bethany Convent and is triple the value. Why not sell the more lucrative real estate that houses one individual?”

Neither building is listed on the Zillow ( real estate appraisal Web site, but suffice it to say that the Nopal convent is near homes valued at $600,000 to $700,000, while the Curry residence is near homes with values estimated at around $1.3 million, but is much larger and probably worth far more. (The San Roque building is also the office of the Santa Barbara pastoral region, I’ve been told.)

Bishop Curry was in the news last week when it was revealed that he may have been aware that a priest accused of sexual abuse planned to flee to his native Mexico in 1988. The priest is still a fugitive.

Three nuns of the Bethany order live at the convent. Sister Angela, who formerly worked at Catholic Charities on East Haley Street and is now retired, suffers from failing eyesight and other health problems and uses a walker. But she continues to do volunteer immigration and translation work with parishioners. Sister Consuelo works in Catholic education at Our Lady of Sorrows Church. Sister Margarita is the housekeeper and takes care of Sister Angela. They maintain the building using Sister Angela’s Social Security SSI disability allotment and Sister Consuelo’s income. They have no idea where they will go before the December 31 deadline arrives-possibly to the Los Angeles-area Bethany convent.

Tod Tamberg, spokesperson for the Los Angeles Archdiocese, said he was unaware of the planned sale of the Bethany convent or what the proceeds might be, but said he felt sure that the Bethany order would “step in” to aid the transition. But the June 28 letter to the Sisters of Bethany telling them of the impending sale, not received until last week for some reason, was bluntly worded. Rather than offering compassionate help with relocation, it referred the Sisters to “our real estate department,” which was also hurtful to the sisters, they told me. The letter, from the Rev. Monsignor Royal M. Vadakin-with the title of moderator of the Curia/vicar general-read, “As you know, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is faced with multiple financial challenges in its efforts to bring closure to the accusations and litigation which confronts our Church.”

While conceding that the Bethany sale and that of other church properties “will affect people,” this is “one of the steps required for the church to pay its part of the settlement : We all have to pay the price for the sins of the few,” Tamberg said. “I didn’t get a raise this year.” The Archdiocese Catholic Center, the main administrative center in Los Angeles, has been sold. “Nobody in the building molested anybody,” he said. Buildings to be sold were chosen by a committee that made a survey, he said.

“What the church is doing is evicting the nuns who work with the poor of Santa Barbara and who have been doing this work since June 1952,” Rosemary Gutierrez wrote in an email. “This is not the way to treat the nuns who have worked with the poor as social workers, immigration consultants, catechists, etc. The Archdiocese is creating new victims to pay off the abuse victims that the church covered up for so many years.” (Gutierrez claims that she blew the whistle and set off the “Nannygate” uproar involving then Santa Barbaran Michael Huffington’s 1994 campaign for U.S. Senate. The revelation that his wife Arianna employed an illegal immigrant as a nanny likely cost Huffington the victory.)

Meanwhile, Sister Angela is resigned to the convent being sold out from under her. “I have lived [in Santa Barbara] all my life and I’m going to die here.”


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